This week on the Boagworld show we are joined by Rachel Gertz to discuss workflow, automation and kick starting digital transformation.
Marcus: Hi Paul, how you doing today?
Paul: We won’t even get into that. Will get into that in just a minute first of all I just want to welcome Rachel Gertz. How are you? Good to have you on the show Rachel.
Rachel: Thanks guys, I really appreciate it. I am doing great.
Paul: Well at least you are doing great because I am dying of man flu.
Rachel: Oh, that’s awful.
Paul: It is very, very serious.
Marcus: It isn’t serious at all is it, come on.
Paul: I can’t work out whether it’s man flu or hay fever or just motorhome misery because I am in the motorhome today.
Rachel: Can I ask quick question?
Paul: Yes, of course.
Rachel: What is man flu?
Paul: Have you not heard of man flu?
Rachel: No, is this like a British thing?
Paul: Maybe it is, I don’t know. So man flu is essentially a slight sniffle and a cold, but because a man has it it’s much, much more serious. Because of very melodramatic about things like this. So a woman would just suck it up and get on with life as normal but because it’s a man, it’s life-threatening.
Rachel: Oh my goodness, what are you going to do with you?
Paul: I know!
Marcus: Ignore him.
Rachel: Anyway Marcus.
Marcus: I was moaning two or three weeks ago with the same condition I believe.
Rachel: Oh no.
Paul: You infected me over the radio waves.
Rachel: Listen, I’ve got to go.
Marcus: I think you’re all right, your thousands and thousands of miles away.
Paul: So yes, I’m going to basically expect you to do all the heavy lifting the show. I could sit here slowly dripping from my nose.
Marcus: There is no need for that kind of detail.
Paul: I know you want it.
Rachel: A slow drip is better than a fast drip in my opinion.
Paul: That is very true. Wise words. Already our listeners can take away something valuable from this show. Which is good.
So Rachel, tell us a bit about yourself. What are you up to these days because it’s been a little while since we’ve met hasn’t it?
Rachel: Yes, we actually met at a speakers dinner last year and I think about dinner we were all pouring our hearts out about the most vulnerable things and I don’t think you had man flu that day.
I’m the co-founder and partner at Louder Than Ten which is a small company in Vancouver, Canada. We don’t have walls around the country and kicking anyone out so it’s a really good place to come and we welcome everybody. Our company works with small to medium-size companies and we really focus on tightening up PM processes and doing training and workshops and not get vacuumed up by all the bigger Facebook’s of the world.
Paul: Wow, so you are not a digital PM at a traditional web design agency, you’re actually focused on training and management and those kinds of areas.
Rachel: Yes, definitely. I still keep my hand in a little bit of digital project management, mostly internally but it’s just something that has grown and there was a need I think for other teams to need the support and help in terms of buckling up all their processes, as I think we are still fighting a battle here with understanding the role of PM and how it can actually make a company more valuable and sustainable.
Paul: So how did that come about, when did you set it up and what triggered it?
Rachel: So it’s been in its current form for over two years now and before that we did run a pretty standard digital studio and we done some travelling and we’ve spoken with a few folks and worked freelance. Really, what it was, was with the teaching background that I have and with my husbands and partner, Travis’s background, he basically likes to hack anything that he can hack and turn into a smarter system. So together we were looking at what we could spend our time on. There are a lot of different agencies out there and we wanted to be able to support those, so basically it evolved naturally and a lot of credit goes to Brett Harnett and Carl Smith because we were friends and partners and colleagues back in the day. They planted some seeds, I think I’ll be the first guy who got me to speak and I was terrified at the digital PM summit.
Paul: So is it just the two of you or are there more view now?
Rachel: There is a few of us. We all work remote, we also have a strategist who helps us as well and we have a consultant who’s actually working with us on workshops and training. We getting him introduced more and more, so we are growing a little bit and up to 5 now at various places all across Canada and hopefully the US soon.
Paul: So what was the magazine you mentioned?
Rachel: We run a digital magazine called Coax. Basically it’s a magazine that we started again to talk about products. We want people to talk about their experiences and share things that shaped who they were as people because I find that we are drawn to these areas and project management almost unconsciously. I think you guys almost project managers without even realising it.
Paul: Is a terrifying thought but I think it may well be true.
Marcus: It is.
Paul: With the agency that you are running, are you just working on digital processes and projects or are you looking broader? Are the principles that you teach applicable in any situation?
Rachel: I mean we definitely specialise in a digital area. What we find is that the term creative, you can expand that to any sort of thing where you are making things online and with other people. We have expanded into that realm but we really want to keep the focus on digital because if you are looking at where we are headed, technology is moving so fast. You guys know as your specialty to is integrating technology into these larger companies and really supporting those initiatives. We are focusing on the little guys and the medium-sized guys, trying to make sure that everybody has got everything they need to feel confident. It’s scary. It’s scary not to know how to use technology not only as a business tool but integrated, almost as though you are a bit of a cyborg.
Paul: So what kind of people are working with? Is it agencies or is it with, who?
Rachel: So we are working with a number of agencies and digital marketing companies in Canada and the US but we are also talking and working with a few product companies or the folks who are in the middle who are service companies but are helping product companies pass round one funding, trying to help them with UI development or whatever that basic identity and brand is. Really just supporting those initiatives because again in that product sphere, in a lot of cases they’ve done away or haven’t included the project management role. What we’re finding is that those folks are still unable to have the tough conversations, they still not tethering anything to business goals. Forget about project goals because we know those change, but those business goals, where they are taking people. It’s that mid zone but I think we’d like to continue focusing on and really support people who are trying to become technology companies but stay reasonably small.
Paul: I’ve got to say, that sounds brilliant and makes me all the more want to move to Canada. We were talking about this last week with Carson Pearce.
Marcus: When you announced earlier on that you’ve given up being British I believe.
Paul: I have. I’ve announced it on Twitter now, it’s now official. Is not that I’ve got anything wrong with Britain, I’ve announced that I’ve given up being British because I just decided that the whole idea of nationhood is a bit screwy and rubbish really. In the world that we work in borders and nothing but an inconvenience really. The fact that I have to charge different currencies and worry about different taxation and all of the stuff. It would be very convenient if we could just get rid of all nations and people could just go where they wanted. Something like a big single common market where people can move from country to country in this freedom of movement.
Marcus: Sounds Familiar, that.
Paul: It does sound familiar, doesn’t it?
Rachel: In with you guys. Do you want to do this? Let’s make it happen!
Paul: Do you know what I think we ought to do, I think we ought to resurrect the British Empire. I’m not saying that Britain should rule it anymore but I’m just saying that if you look at all of the countries that were in the British Empire at the height of the British Empire and said that they were a single common market where you could travel through any of those countries and work where you want, that would be a really cool set of countries.
Rachel: It really would actually. I would sign up, I would be okay with that.
Paul: You could come work in the UK or the states or Canada, you could work in South Africa, India, most of the world would be your oyster.
Rachel: Basically yes, because you guys almost to cover the whole world at one point didn’t you?
Paul: We just walk into countries, we put a flag in it and call it ours.
Marcus: Well the Americans celebrated getting rid of us on Monday didn’t they?
Rachel: Yes, I didn’t even look at it that way.
Paul: So did Canada, not long ago. You had Canada Day not long back didn’t you?
Rachel: Yes we did. And ours is only hundred and 49 years.
Paul: That’s not long if you look at it like that.
Rachel: It’s just a baby country.
Paul: Well you’re doing pretty good for baby country. It seems like everybody wants to move to you, have you seen the news about the amount of people who are searching Google on how to emigrate to Canada?
Rachel: No I didn’t see that.
Paul: It skyrocketed. I tell you with a combination of Brexit and also Trump, I think you could have this massive influx of really annoying British and American people.
Marcus: Nice British people.
Paul: You just want the smart people.
Rachel: It would be nice to have the smart people, the people who want to leave are the ones that have weighed their options and think that Canada has some good offerings right now.
Paul: Absolutely. But as we said last week it is too cold.
Rachel: Wait? Where are talking about moving? That’s the key, guys.
Paul: Well where are you based?
Rachel: I am on Vancouver’s West Coast here so the coldest it gets is maybe 2°. No snow, very mild, warmest is 27 in the summer.
Marcus: Is that 2°C?
Rachel: Yes, we don’t do that weird Fahrenheit stuff.
Marcus: We do Fahrenheit when it’s hot, but centigrade when it’s normal.
Paul: No we don’t. Only old people like you Marcus, do.
Marcus: People still say it’s 90 and 85.
Paul: No they don’t. Only your geriatric friends.
Marcus: Nobody says it’s 32 when it’s freezing.
Paul: No. That’s completely gone which is probably a good thing.
Rachel: I didn’t realise this but when the metric system replaced the imperial system in Canada in the late 70s, I found out that there was this entire political motivation behind who wanted to have which system in power. It actually became a big deal and a lot of people in the Canadian political scene were treated very poorly and even ousted as a result of where things went because we ended up adopting metric. It affects obviously construction and every kind of position you can imagine so that’s where in our parents’ generation, when you try to get them to think in metric it’s an interesting pushback that you get. I think our generation still on the fence. We know both systems for measuring with tapes and cups vs tablespoons. We thinking imperial but everything else is metric. It’s so bizarre. My weight, I’ve never calculated my weight in kilograms.
Marcus: No, me neither. We drive in miles.
Rachel: Oh do you? Distance is kilometres.
Paul: Distance is in miles but what really screws with your head is that when you’re in a car and driving, if I was measuring a cabinet it would be in metres and centimetres.
Rachel: How does this happen?
Paul: I know, it’s weird. And also, my weight is measured in stone and pounds.
Rachel: What is a stone again?
Marcus: 14 pounds.
Rachel: That is so arbitrary. What does that mean?
Paul: Well that is an imperial measurement and they are all so arbitrary.
Marcus: If I weigh hundred and 80 pounds, that’s about 13 stone.
Rachel: Do you do leagues as well?
Marcus: Oh, is that a seafaring measurement? Maybe.
Paul: I don’t go anywhere near the sea.
Marcus: Race courses are measured in furlongs which is an ancient measurement. So serious stuff, if you going to build a house, that is always millimetres and metres. If you could build a space station it would not be in imperial.
Rachel: If we made our own version of no boundaries in the entire world, what system would be use?
Paul: Oh we would definitely go metric.
Marcus: Metric makes more sense. Have you seen the triangle, the diagram of US vs the rest of the world? I’ll see if I can find it for you.
Paul: It is a ridiculous thing. You got to work out what currency we would use.
Rachel: Oh, what currency would be use?
Paul: I know, we’d have to make up a new one. This is the situation we are now in in Britain. We now trying to undo all of those things that we’ve made up.
Rachel: I’ve kind of noticed that.
Paul: Is very complicated. Going back to what you are saying about the introduction of imperial and metric and how it became politicised, that’s exactly what happened with the EU thing. It’s had nothing really to do with what is right or wrong or best for the country. A lot of it was just politicians manoeuvring and arguing with one another and wanting to get into power. It’s sad but true unfortunately.
Rachel: It’s going to be interesting to see what happens because I’m sure that no one expected it in the way that it boiled out. What do you think could happen in the US?
Paul: I think he could get in.
Marcus: From what I’ve read, the feeling is that he won’t because the more moderate vote, the more left-wing way of thinking has becoming much more to the fore in the past eight years in America than there was before. So in theory, no far right wing candidates could get in. But it remains to be seen.
Rachel: It does. I think I just can sit with my popcorn and watch the whole thing unfold.
Paul: The trouble is, is that you can get what you’ve got here in the UK, which is a protest vote. Where people aren’t actually saying, I want Trump. They are saying, I want things to change. Hilary is not exactly a figure where people go, oh yes if we have Hilary things are going to change. It’s very much a vote for the status quo.
Rachel: Do we want the same, or do we want worse? Those are the choices.
Paul: Yes. What was that you just pinged us Marcus?
Marcus: It’s a comparison of the United States to the rest of the world. The United States is described as an arbitrary retarded rollercoaster, 12 inches to a foot, 3 feet to a yard, 1760 yards to a mile, 16 ounces to a pound. And in comparison to logical and smooth sailing to the rest of the world, with 1000 mm to a meter, 1000 m to a kilometre, 1000 g to a kilogram, thousand kilograms to a tonne.
Paul: You’ve got to say it’s a lot more sensible really. They you go.
Rachel: I agree.
Paul: From a usability perspective!
Marcus: Indeed. Although that’s where it may be full is down a bit and where we still use some imperial things like feet and inches and pounds because a pound of weight is an easier way to deal with as a human and a big kilogram is. Kilogram is too big.
Rachel: Yes, before all of that based on the amounts that we could hold on the size of our feet and length of rope, and all these weird human-based measurements? We just determined the world around our own needs and then it suited everybody really well for a number of years and then stopped.
Paul: Then you could say the same as well about our basic system of maths that we use. We used multiples of 10 because we happen to have 10 fingers.
Rachel: Oh, that’s true.
Marcus: Tens of really easy to deal with mathematically as well. That’s why metric works so well mathematically but maybe not in a touchy-feely way.
Paul: That’s quite profound Marcus.
Marcus: Can I go back to sleep now?
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Discussion with Rachel
Paul: Okay, so we’ve come to the questions that have been submitted and I’ve got to say, it’s a really great set of questions that we’ve got which I think will be very suited to you Rachel as I’ve heard a bit more about your background and what it is that you do, so I’m hoping that you are going to have some bits and bobs to share. I’m sure Marcus will do too.
Marcus: One or two, maybe.
Paul: So the first one is from Prescott and had some questions already from Prescott but his submitted some good ones, selects to another. ‘How can small teams build cohesion around a workflow and not just a software title.’ So a lot of small teams get Basecamp, but just because you’ve got a good software title, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you got a good workflow that goes with it. It strikes me, Rachel that this is very much your bread and butter is it not?
Rachel: Definitely. It’s right in line with that focal point.
Paul: And I didn’t know that when I selected the question, so that works out very, very well. Because I could have pretended that I had planned this in some way but obviously…
Rachel: I would have given you full credit for that by the way, just seeing the question.
Paul: Yes, I’ve ruined it. So what kind of things due tell small teams around workflow?
Rachel: Workflow isn’t just the chill the use or the way that you work. Workflow is the fundamental placement of where your team is that and how you interact with each other. I think one of the biggest things that we come back to is when people start saying, not my job, is that terrible point of view based on having to protect their role and what they do in the company. That is outside of but my specialty is so I’m not going to ask questions and not going to interact with you on those things and I’m not going to try to steer the project in that direction that it should go.
Interestingly enough we already talked about the other day intensity that it can lead to, in terms of, not in my back yard or not in my country, right? It’s not an attitude that leads to a healthy productive team. So when we talk about making sure that workflow feels good we really reinforce, make sure it’s focused on goals and make sure that the roles of the teammates that you have are focusing on meeting at critical intersection points.
Here’s an example, when you guys figure most missed communications happen by the team when you are dealing with digital processes?
Paul: Probably near the beginning I would have thought when things are pretty woolly.
Rachel: Is there a specific example that you guys can think of that typically where the breakdown will happen?
Paul: You often get breakdowns in my experience when a designer and a developer working together and the designer is producing some beautiful graphics or some kind of functionality and the developer has misunderstood how that would work or how it would operate. You get a similar thing with the client as well, that they look at a static comp and they are under the impression that it will work in a certain way or will look the same in all browsers, because you’re not seeing the full picture.
Marcus: What we found is an extension of that, is that in a build process of a website, design and build is happening all the time so even if you might get an early sign off of a comp, you’re still designing new bits and bobs all the time. What we’ve tended to find is that you’ll get maybe not miscommunication, but you’ll get hurdles when a designer designs a new piece or part of the design further into the project that doesn’t really fit with the current structures that the front-end designers put together. That’s a pretty good example of where we get a lot of pickups.
Rachel: Yes, when that finance structure doesn’t meet the backend and basically there’s a pain point that happens. That fundamental breakdown is what usually lends itself to scoping increases and schedule changes and all these other things so when we are focusing on workflow were not just looking at the tool side, were saying let’s build a checklist for where those things tend to happen so that we can reinforce and strengthen those project goals. Let’s make sure we know if we are doing well. How do we know we doing well? Just making sure that we are not just assuming that we understand where our teammates are at, with the understanding between those points. So re-asking the same questions can be really helpful. We use things like root cause analysis or the five whys, where you don’t stop at first why but go back five layers of whys to determine the true source of the problem.
Paul: That’s really interesting, I never knew that was an established methodology because of instinctively not gone five levels but I always talk about how powerful it is asking the question why is. But you can’t just ask it once is you have to keep digging don’t you?
Rachel: Exactly. Is that curiosity you had when you were a child, when your parents would ask you to keep quiet and it was like, no, I need to know why? That is the key to getting all of these questions answered and we can probably fix politics and economics if we kept asking why?
Paul: Going back to what you are saying about the intersection between two different people’s roles because that’s inevitably where workflow falls down. How do you define areas of responsibility in such a way that those edges of fluid enough to have conversations? For example, you are saying some people go, well that’s not my job so I’m not going to do anything about it and they shrug their shoulders and walk away. On the other hand, somebody who comes along and interferes in someone else’s job can be really annoying at times can’t they? So there is a balance to be struck there isn’t there?
Rachel: Yes there is, you’re right. Because you can’t have everyone doing the same things, because there will be so many problems from the outset. Is having a lot of conversations and having clarity from the beginning about, this is the stuff that I do really well at. I know how to ask the right questions and where to go to get help. This is the stuff that you are really good at you also know how to ask the right questions and where to go to get help. Where are the areas that are grey? If you can define those grey areas together you can make sure that there shouldn’t be technically hand offs, is just this collaborative movement of the projects where there are no breakdowns that happen and whenever anyone is confused about where things are added, it’s coming back to what we trying to accomplish and how to support the goals of the project or the business of the company that were working with. I think it has to be around asking the right questions. What you guys find that works for you?
Paul: In Headscape we are in quite a good position in the sense that people have worked together for so long that they’ve worked that out themselves. Is that fair to say Marcus?
Marcus: Yes, my take on this question is a little bit of a tangent from it because when Emma joined 18 months ago, our project manager, she took it on herself to try and find the right software title for us and we just struggled and struggled to find something that supports the way we work completely, end-to-end. It doesn’t exist as we found out. So I think my take from that question is, don’t try and rely on a software title at all. Use them where they are appropriate as part of your process but if you just think that this thing a package is going to build cohesion for you, it isn’t. Because we found that out ourselves.
Paul: Yes, that’s a continued problem isn’t it with people think that some piece of technology is going to be the magic bullet that solves their problems and is not really. Your workflow needs to be built around the people and the characters that you’re working with more than anything else because different people like to work in different ways. Some people wants to be able to shut themselves off and focus, other times others are going to want to be working side-by-side and so in a sense, I am going to say the worthy you’re not meant to say on this show, is that it depends. Every team is different and every group is different.
Marcus: I think the teams need to constantly review how they work and be upfront with each other about the things that aren’t working and try to fix those things on an ongoing basis. That’s how we work as we doing ongoing projects all the time so issues will crop up and people might get a bit upset about this that and the other and will take that on board and say okay, how can we fix that. Maybe six months later another issue will appear and we will adjust our workflow accordingly around that. So it’s constantly talking to each other basically.
Rachel: Yes, you’re right.
Paul: I guess the danger of that is that you can spend a lot of time in meetings. There can be a lot of time of navelgazing rather than actually getting on with the work, to play devil’s advocate.
Marcus: We used to do so daily stand-ups as a team but then we realised that they were meant to be 5 to 10 minute times and ended up being half an hour to an hour, so that was certainly the case that we were doing more meetings than working. But it got completely dumped because were so busy and we stopped having sets times where we were going to sit down and talk to each other about what we were working on and what is working and what isn’t. Sorry for that into a weekly lunch meeting now because it’s a balance thing, you do need to talk to each other about these things but don’t overdo it otherwise you’ll end up just talking about things are not doing things. So we’ve gone back to a weekly thing which seems to be working at the moment.
Rachel: I was reading this article that was actually talking about how do you have or maintain a really good marriage or relationship and it says despite what you think is the cause of a breakdown, which usually depends on money, jobs or tasks and sex, instead is actually around failure to meet expectations. Of course my PM brain goes back to, how does that work in our world? When did we fail to meet our team’s expectations and how does that impact the level of communication? Because if we compared it to a marriage it would be like, if you’re going to over communicate is that going to prevent you from doing marriage or partaking in the process of marriage? You just basically rolling out these regular conversations that just become part of the regular checking in and you’re not that hovering, nervous person that everyone hates as a partner but the relaxed, how are people feeling about things, is this working, what can we change? Instead of waiting to the end of the project to have that retrospective, just do it throughout.
Paul: Is the little and often approach isn’t it? Is it better to talk on a regular basis rather than wasting hours every once in a while. It’s like usability testing, and I think it’s true with any form of communication, little and often.
Okay let’s look at our second question. This one is from Charles. ‘How’d you get people from across your organisation interested or even infused about participating in digital transformation work?’ So this is about engagement isn’t it? Rachel, do you do a lot in regards to digital transformation? Sounds there are a lot of your plans are fairly savvy already.
Rachel: So far a lot of the clients that we’ve worked with are familiar with digital processes, is just not knowing how to automate or make them really simple. I think you guys definitely have a specialty in that area for sure.
Paul: Yes, this is more my kind of thing. But I was just interested because I don’t think in some regards, whether you are talking about getting people in an organisation interested or infused about anything, it’s pretty much the same. You can take digital transformation out of that sentence and say user experience or you could say processes and workflows or you could say anything you want. The thing I think is struck me over this Charles, as I’m sitting writing this book the moment about building user experience culture in an organisation, is that it’s not all about management dictating these things from the top. I’ve worked with a number of organisations where someone within the senior management team has said we need to digitally transform we need to becoming more user centric or whatever it is. There is this feeling that senior management say that we need to do this then everything is going to be lovely and special but it doesn’t work out like that. In actual fact it’s got to be very much, you need management support don’t get me wrong, but I think it very much has to be a grassroots campaign. I think for me it begins by establishing a small group of people that already get it, whatever it is you’re trying to convince them of.
So bring together small group of people that will readily understand what you’re trying to do and turn that group into a bit of a community because then what you’re doing is that you’re creating a bridgehead within the organisation and a unified core of people that can make a difference. I often think you need to unify people around something, a set of values. So if you say that we want people to get involved in digital transformation, then what does that actually mean? We want this organisation to be more committed to user experience design. What does that actually mean? So the manifestoes and design principles you see around a lot these days, like the UK government Digital service, like the US playbook, Google’s got one of these kinds of documents are a very, very simple set of values that unite people. From there it’s really about starting an undertaking an internal comms campaign and systematically reaching out to people whether it be through internal newsletters, internal blogs or running internal conferences which I find is always really good and getting outside speakers in, it’s a huge subject that Charles is asking about but it needs to begin by getting a unified group of people together.
Marcus: I remember we spoke to Jared Spool about this, it was more about how to get senior management’s buy in the think it applies across the board actually. Just to summarise what he was saying is, speak to them in their terms. Use terminology that they understand and if you’re describing something to them in their terms, they can then see the benefit of it basically. I think that applies across an organisation. Everybody does what we do so you need to explain the benefits of whatever it is in terms that people understand.
Paul: I think the key thing you said there Marcus is that they can see the benefits to them as well. Inherently most of us are pretty selfish and I did meet as make that sound as bad as it came across but we are worried about our own little bubble, our own little world. So if you’re talking to somebody from procurement, you need to talk about what digital transformation can provide them. If you talking to someone from HR and trying to sell them on user experience design you need to show how user experience design can affect and benefits them and their role, and so it goes on. Jared was getting at that again in his article that we mentioned, about how you can’t convince executives to care about user experience, you need to identify what it is that they already care about and then explain how user experience design can deliver that. Which I totally agree with.
Rachel, from your point of view, a big part of what you do is actually requiring people to change their existing behaviours, right? Whether it be digital transformation, user experience design, project management or whatever else, people don’t like change. So what do you find works in order to encourage people to change their ways?
Rachel: There is this entire change management process in play here the think when the biggest things we need to start with is an awareness of where people are at, not just physically but mentally as well. Little bit like what you guys talked about, you do an assessment but for the buy in part you could have people who are more open to change than others, people who are going to support you and champion you and then you could have people who are more resistant to change a lot of it has to do with what kind of mind set to they have, how open to transition are they in their own lives, in their own roles, do they feel threatened, how will this impact them on a personal level? All of the things that you just talked about. Really I think we have to set the stage by having clarity around the fact that you are going to be inventing change and how many people are feeling change fatigued? Sometimes when people try to implement change they’ve already tried a few things. It’s not like we just can to do this one thing and then we promised were never going to change anything again. It’s like, first they change this and now they are changing that. Now we have to do this thing. People’s resistance goes up because they feel threatened and actually as part of the digital p.m. summit talk last year I did some research on change management and the theories around that. I could not believe that they said that there was this entire scale of grief, it’s the same scale as the change resistance scale. You react in the same way as you would when you are going through the grieving process with the whole denial, anger, sadness, all of those stages. So thinking that this is why it’s so important for us to meet people where they are because you don’t know what they’ve been through as an individual but even as an organisation, people can actually carry these stress memories that are shared throughout an organisation. You can take those and you can carry them through genetics. It blew my mind. Memories of things that never happened to you can be carried through your DNA. So imagine to, if you like living in a more stressful environment in a country that’s maybe been through tragedy or some wars or there is political instability, all those things become elements when you are having these conversations and you have to have some sort of sensitivity. Sometimes they say that if you’re going to make a habit change, sometimes it’s best to rupture a whole bunch of habits and restart something brand-new. But you have to do that while asking people, what do you mean? Because if you try to come in and just sweep everything over, that is really a lot of stress to deal with.
Paul: I think there’s a lot of collective habits as well. The unwritten rules of an organisation that to find its culture and its identity and even though individuals within an organisation can be entirely up the change, if the culture of the organisation itself is resistance to change it can be quite hard to shift the needle. For example, I worked with one organisation where senior management said that we need to change, everybody was up for its everybody was enthusiastic, yet it wasn’t happening. As I dug, it was because everybody was afraid they were afraid of what other people might think or what reaction they would get if they did things differently. There was this unwritten thing that was, I am up the change everybody else isn’t. It wasn’t true and it was just embedded in the culture somewhere and so deconstructing that is challenging and you have two dragged the problem into the light and say, this is a big issue, everyone saying the same thing, and identify the problem before you can begin to change it. So it’s an interesting area.
Anyway, we ought to get onto our last question before we run out of time, which is from Neil. Neil says, ‘It strikes me that a lot of the things that we do digital professionals could be automated. Things from client communication to reporting. Are we missing an opportunity here? Or is the personal touch better?’
I struggled with this question little bits let me just clarify this in an example I have where every month I have to send out a time bank report to the people that have bought mentorship hours with me to say how many hours they’ve got so far and how many they got left et cetera. I could write a bit of code that would churn that out and send it to them and effectively automate it, but I choose not to because I want to say a little bit and say, hey, it’s been little while since I’ve spoken to you, how did that last meeting we had go, et cetera. This is quite an interesting project management issue here or people management issue. On one hand as organisations we are pushing all the time to be more and more efficient. I probably waste a good hour sending all of those emails out but on the other hand it is about relationships and people, so is that time well spent?
Rachel what you feel about that?
Rachel: I have a strong and mixed feelings about that. I get that is first and foremost you have to be human. This is about people and there are no projects about people and when there are, I don’t ever want to be part of that world. At the same time, there is literally a wall of technology that is headed straight for us. My partner and I to meet our company enough to make it a machine so that we can be the humans that look after the humans that run the work, so to make everything else simple and were not bogged down in that. Our job as project managers is not to manage schedules and timelines and capacity, is to solve problems that people have, to have conversations that make them feel safe and make them feel as though we are looking after them. If I can do that job better if I can help my clients do that job better, I am okay with using technology that allows me to automate it. It’s a really big controversial topic I am sure.
Paul: That’s nice, I like that way of thinking about it, seeing technology as an enabler to free up your own time to focus on people and relationships. That’s quite a nice way thinking about it. Marcus what’s your thoughts on this?
Marcus: When I first read it I nearly did to Jeremy Keith and rejected the premise of the question.
Paul: Okay, why is that?
Marcus: Is because I thought it didn’t make sense. Why would you want to automate communications? Then I thought yes, okay in some specs you might want to is reporting is the one thing. However with the example you’ve given we do the same thing every month with various maintenances and contracts that we’ve got and I don’t think it’s wasted time at all to communicate with people about how much time you’ve used this month et cetera, even if it’s just making contact and reminding them that you exist, it gives it value. But it’s also an opportunity to talk about what the next piece of work might be. So yes I was overdoing it with rejecting the premise of the question but I think that personal touch is really, really important and I think if you gave somebody a login and said that this is where you can go in and check out the numbers, I think you could end up losing a relationship if you did that.
Paul: It’s a tricky one. It’s an interesting question because I am a huge fan of automation and huge fan of getting work off my plate if I possibly can. The more you automate something, the less communication there potentially is and therefore, going back to what we talking about in the beginning, the more chance there is for misunderstanding which ultimately cost your business.
Rachel: I wonder if there’s still a way to automate the processes that support communication and so that communication is still done by human beings to other human beings but for example, do you guys use Slack at all?
Rachel: Do you have daily stand-ups? I think we using integration called Howdy, it’s an education that allows you to say what you’re working on, who need to talk to and what’s holding you up since like a stand-up but it makes it so that everyone in the company knows what we are working on and where we don’t have to necessarily have a meeting to do it. It takes two minutes and it’s done and I don’t feel as though it has a negative impact on the type of work that we do, but I’m curious to hear with you guys have any other examples of ideas around that?
Marcus: I do think that example is automated, it still has to be human being entering words into something to explain whatever it is that they are working on, what issues they were having. It’s still human communication even if it’s just through a different medium. My problem with this is the automation.
Paul: Yes, but you’ve got to say that it all this just been described like that, you can do a daily stand-up in a fraction of the time you would do if you are speaking to one another. You know how daily stand-ups become, you talked about it a few minutes ago. So in that regards, no it’s not automated but it is using technology to streamline it and make it more efficient. That’s a good thing in my opinion.
Marcus: I don’t have a problem with that at all.
Paul: Okay, we’ll leave that one there is an intimate definitive answer to the question is a good conversation started nothing else.
I just want to quickly talk about our other sponsor which is boag.world/shopify. Shopify is the leading multi channel commerce software which has over 275,000 merchants around the world using it. One of the reasons Shopify has going to see such success is that they work on building a platform that can be easily used by designers and developers and people like that. It’s very straightforward if you are a web designer and developer to use and that’s why it’s become so popular. They’ve actually gone one step further than building this very streamlined system you to use. They’ve also shown a real commitment to the web community by creating what they call a Shopify partner program and this program offers designers and developers new ways to earn passive income from building websites for their clients through a revenue sharing model that they do, so the more installations for Shopify that you sell to your clients, the more revenue that you make offer that as well as the design and development work that you do. Shopify partners also offers a variety of free content with the purpose of helping freelancers, agencies et cetera grow and succeed. So last week I mentioned that Shopify has this amazing blog dedicated entirely to freelancers and agencies where you can get advice and support, not just on using Shopify but on general design and development stuff. That’s not the only resource that they provide though. They also do a regular webinar series called Shopify partner sessions that you can check out. These are like hour-long webinars covering topics ranging from business strategy agencies to advice on working with clients and tips about using the Shopify platform as well. So they regularly bring in special guests to run these webinars, I’ve done one or two of them and I’ve written for their blog as well. You can find out more about the upcoming Shopify partner session webinars by going to the Shopify design and development blog at shopify.com/partners/blog.
Okay Marcus, do you have a joke to wrap us up?
Marcus: I have a joke you sent to me in the boagworld Slack channel that I missed.
Paul: There you go, my own wonderful joke.
Marcus: I entered 10 puns into a pun contest to see which one would win. Unfortunately, no pun in 10, did.
Rachel: That’s good.
Paul: That was somebody on Twitter and I can’t remember who so I apologise to Everett was. It was almost certainly Bruce Lawson as he does show a lot of jokes.
So Rachel, thank you so much for coming on the show and where can people find out more about you?
Rachel: Definitely think you so much guys are really appreciated. Come and find us at Louder Than Ten, we are on Twitter and Facebook and are actually going to be speaking at the design and content conference in Vancouver this year on July 22. We really excited to talk about design and content systems.
Paul: Interesting stuff. It’s been a long time since I was at Vancouver. I feel a need for another trip before too long.
Rachel: I’d love to see you. You and Marcus should come and we will make our own worldwide country.
Marcus: The last time I was in Vancouver was 1989.
Paul: Oh my word that was a long time ago. How would which you have been Rachel, in 1989? Just embarrassed Marcus.
Guest: I was six.
Marcus: I was 22.
Paul: Just a reminder that we are always open to people’s questions. We love getting people’s questions if you can send them in to boagworld/questions and just post them as a comment or email them to me at Paul@boagworld.com. Thank you Rachel and thank you everybody for listening.